Oklahoma: House approves 58-34 major changes to merit/commission system; JNC would serve at pleasure of gov & legislators, must send all names to gov, House/Senate cmte would confirm nominees

The Oklahoma House yesterday approved a constitutional amendment to overhaul the state’s merit/commission system used to select appellate judges and turn over control to the governor and state legislative leaders.

HB 3162 as approved by the full House would effectively replace the current Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) system with a new one. Key provisions would include

  • A majority (8/15) of members of the JNC would serve at the pleasure of the governor and legislative leaders; currently JNC members serve fixed terms.
  • The JNC would no longer submit a list of 3 names to the governor. Instead, the JNC would be required to forward all those who meet the constitutional and statutory qualifications for office. The JNC would be allowed to “score” each of the nominees sent on a confidential 1-10 scale.
  • House/Senate committee confirmation: The original plan called for the Senate to confirm nominees. Under a floor amendment the HB 3162 now calls for confirmation by a 10-member joint House/Senate committee. The minority party in each chamber would get at least 1 seat per chamber.

One floor amendment that barely rejected (motion to table was only approved 47-46) would have let the legislature “veto” any sitting judge up for re-election by 2/3rds vote. If “vetoed” the judge would be prohibited from re-election and the office deemed vacant.

HB 3162 now goes to the Senate which in recent years has approved its own plans to alter or end entirely the state’s JNC.